If you want to take to the skies without leaving your Mac, we’ve taken a look at the best flight simulators for Mac in 2018 and from 2017. Although the popular Microsoft Flight Simulator for Mac has never been released and the choice on macOS is limited, there are some incredibly realistic flight sims available nowadays on Mac. Nowadays you can make them feel even more realistic on Mac with cockpit accessories such as yoke controllers, rudder pedals and even flight switches too. In these reviews, we’ve focused on the most realistic pro level simulators for armchair pilots – not arcade games. Here then are the best flight sims for Mac in order of ranking.
X-Plane is designed by an ex-professional pilot is and is easily the most realistic flight sim available for both Mac and PC. X-Plane is an incredible piece of work with highly detailed graphics, cockpits, airports, plane handling and weather conditions. In fact, X-Plane is so realistic that it’s used by pilot training schools, aerospace engineers and even NASA to design, simulate and test aircraft. Even professional pilots use it on down time to keep their skills sharp.
X-Plane allows you to do everything from shoot VFR and IFR approaches to preparing for emergencies or improving your navigation and landing skills. Not only that but the choice of planes you can fly in X-Plane is incredible ranging from the Cirrus Vision SF 50 to a Lockheed Blackbird and even a Space Shuttle Orbiter. There are 30 planes to choose from but you can add over 1400 more aircraft with add-ons created by fans and plane enthusiasts.
The impressive thing is that X-Plane models the flight handling of each different aircraft so that no two planes ever feel the same. And if that’s not enough, there’s an in-game plane designer to design your own plane with.
The choice of landing pads and airports is equally impressive with over 30,000 locations ranging from oil rigs and frigates (which pitch and roll in stormy weather) to commercial airports and helipads. The level of detail is unbelievable including real world weather conditions, system failures and downloadable scenery.
X-Plane is also the only flight sim for Mac that’s compatible with flight yokes, rudder pedals and cockpit flight switch panels. To really get the best out of X-Plane and enjoy a more authentic flying experience, these really add another dimension to the simulator. There are several available but you have to be careful when choosing because not all are compatible with X-Plane. To avoid problems, Logitech’s G Saitek PRO Flight Yoke System and G Pro Flight Rudder Pedals both work with X-Plane really well.
To complete the experience, you can also use a the Logitech G Saitek Pro Flight Switch Panel to control things like landing gear, engines and lights.
You can also enjoy X-Plane for iPad and iPhone which have been scaled to work perfectly on both and are very similar to the desktop version.
The mobile apps are free but you have to make in-app purchases to add aircraft such as Airbus A320, Boeing 777, F-4 Phantom etc. The regions are far more limited on the mobile version than on Mac but it does support multiplayer mode and other challenges and tutorials.
The obvious downside with such a massive game is it takes a lot of getting used to. The X-Plane user guide feels longer than a Boeing 747 manual. X-Plane is also incredibly RAM hungry – you’ll need at least 8GB of RAM to use it such is the detail of both the graphics and movement of the planes. As long as you have this, X-Plane works extremely well on Mac because although it is available on Windows and Linux, X-Plane was developed using a Mac.
One useful tip: If you use Time Machine to backup your Mac to an external hard drive, don’t forget to exclude the X-Plane directory as it will take-up unnecessary space on your backup device.
Overall, X-Plane really is the ultimate sim for flying on Mac – it’s the closest thing you’ll get to stepping into a cockpit on Mac. You can download a free trial of X-Plane to judge for yourself.
If the price tag or complexity of of X-Plane scares you off, then Aerofly FS is a very good compromise. Like X-Plane, Aerofly FS has incredibly realistic graphics and handling but with a considerably easier user interface that’s less intimidating. It’s not quite as professional as X-Plane but for those with little flying experience, it’s definitely more accessible. Like X-Plane, you can use either keyboard, joystick, gamepad or mouse to control the plane. The controls, aerodynamics and graphics of the planes are very close to those in X-Plane and the flying environment is incredibly detailed.
On the downside, the only region you can fly over is Switzerland – you can’t choose from a variety of worldwide locations like in X-Plane. That said, the detail of the terrain over the Alps is stunning. The aircraft are nowhere near as varied as in X-Plane either. There are no commercial airliners – Aerofly FS is limited to smaller aircraft such as Robin DR-400 and Piper Archer. Some of these also need to be unlocked with in-app purchases. There also aren’t many military aircraft but it does include the F-18 fighter jet. There’s also Aerofly FS for iPad and iPhone for $3.99 although like the desktop version, you need to unlock most of the planes with in-app purchases. The iOS version does however support commercial airliners such as the Boeing 747-400 which is a $2.99 add-on.
Although the overall lack of locations and aircraft are a bit disappointing in Aerfly FS for Mac, for those that can’t be bothered with a huge instruction manual, it’s is an excellent simulator for novices.
Note: Aerofly FS does not work on MacBook Air’s from 2012 or earlier.
FlightGear is easily the best free flight sim out there as it’s completely open source and doesn’t cost a penny but incredibly detailed. Although FlightGear works on all platforms, it does require a lot of downloading different components such as scenery and aircraft. If you can program, you can even expand the code yourself and add airports and planes for others to enjoy. In fact, putting Flightgear together from all the different downloads available is a bit of a mission in itself and we recommend watching the get started guide before jumping in.
Due to the sheer number of aircraft and locations that have been contributed by users around the world, Flightgear has an incredible amount of flying possibilities and choice. There are 20,000 different airports alone and there are also tons of videos uploaded by users giving you instructions how to use the planes, flying tips and more.
The graphics in FlightGear aren’t quite as sharp as in Aerofly FS or X-Plane – they feel a little bit blocky in comparison but there’s not much in it really. However, all of the detail is there – the cockpits and planes have been modeled exactly like the originals and the handling feels very realistic. All the major commercial planes are there too such as Boeing 747 and Airbus A320.
Like X-Plane, FlightGear takes some getting used to though and downloading and uploading the different components takes a bit more time. However, if you’re on a budget and want a highly detailed and realistic flight sim that’s highly customizable, you can’t do much better than FlightGear.
As we’ve seen, although there are less flight simulators on Mac than there on PC, there are three that work on both platforms and stand out for professionalism and realism: X-Plane, Aerofly FS and FlightGear.
X-Plane and FlightGear are easily the most realistic but also the most complex. X-Plane costs $59.99 whereas FlightGear is free but X-Plane is more polished and easier to get going with than FlightGear. X-Plane also allows you to enhance the flight experience with far more realism thanks to accessories like cockpit joysticks, rudder control and flight switches.
Aerofly FS is an excellent compromise between the two as it’s much easier to learn but as a result, isn’t as realistic.
Note that if you’re looking for flight simulators on iPad or iPhone, you can enjoy both X-Plane and Aerofly FS on iOS although there’s no mobile version of FlightGear. We’d also highly recommend the excellent Infinite Flight for iPad and iPhone which unfortunately isn’t available for Mac yet.
If you have any questions, problems or suggestions about any of the flight sims featured here, let us know in the comments below.